Wednesday 13 December 2017

Cricket: Irish stand tall among big hitters

Ireland Kevin O'Brien, left, who hit the quickest hundred in World Cup history, takes a quiet moment with his brother Niall to enjoy their record-breaking victory over England on Wednesday in Bangalore
Ireland Kevin O'Brien, left, who hit the quickest hundred in World Cup history, takes a quiet moment with his brother Niall to enjoy their record-breaking victory over England on Wednesday in Bangalore

Gerard Hughes

Forget 'Incredible India' -- after Kevin O'Brien's fireworks against England in Bangalore on Wednesday night, the advertising slogan should surely be changed to 'Incredible Ireland'.

The World Cup's fastest century, its biggest successful run-chase and most sensational win in 10 tournaments all now belong to the proud men in green after their thrilling victory.

When the dust settles -- which takes a while in India -- it will also be seen that arguably the greatest victory in the history of Irish sport also marks a gear shift in the remarkable journey of this team.

The clues were there in the pre-match interviews when skipper William Porterfield announced that his side were not only capable of beating England, but also no longer feared chasing big totals.

Confidence and big runs are a potent double-act. Look at the faces of Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce as they went about the early overs of the chase -- they believed in themselves and their ability.

Ireland's previous glories against Pakistan four years ago, and even the famous dismissal of the West Indies for 25 in Sion Mills back in 1969, were low-scoring affairs on bowler-friendly pitches -- Irish victories in Irish conditions, if you like.

Yet there was nothing remotely familiar about the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday night, with its floodlights and a pitch as true as the M1.

The difference now is that in O'Brien, Stirling, Joyce and the soon-to-be-qualified Kiwi Hamish Marshall, for the first time Ireland have the big guns to frighten any bowling attack in the world.

Porterfield himself is no mug, Niall O'Brien and Alex Cusack played key support roles against England, and if the top order all fail then John Mooney and Trent Johnston are as good as any No 8 and No 9 in this tournament -- and better than most.

On a bowlers' graveyard of a pitch, it was England who were buried. Andrew Strauss' attack had no answer to the clean hitting of O'Brien and must rue twice allowing Ireland back in the game after letting India off the hook only three days before.

Ireland's remaining opponents in Group B -- India, on Sunday, the West Indies, South Africa and The Netherlands -- now know that if they get to 278-3 with seven overs left of their innings (as England were), the match is not over.

The pop-gun club batsmen who represented Ireland in the past have been replaced by full-time cannons, and cricket grounds around the world will be echoing to their booming for years to come.

Simmons' head not turned by victory

PHIL SIMMONS did not look like the third wise man in Bangalore on Wednesday night as he celebrated Ireland's finest hour sporting a shaven head and bleached-blond beard.

The 'Shave or Dye' charity campaign has a lot to answer for because the brains behind the biggest upset in World Cup history looked like an old-time music hall performer. I say, I say, I say ... did you hear the one about the Englishman, the South African and the Trinidadian who transformed Irish cricket from something of a joke to a power on the world stage?

Simmons is the Trinidadian and following in the coaching footsteps of Mike Hendrick and Adi Birrell, the no-nonsense West Indian has taken his side to a new level, with the promise of more to come. "In life you always look to move forward and improve and I think this group of players has done that," said Simmons yesterday.

"We have a small base of players in Ireland but when you look at the team we have most areas covered, and there is young talent coming through, which is always good to see.

"As a coach, you need a bit of luck too and I've had that because when I lost my two spin bowlers (Kyle McCallan, retired, and Regan West, injured) along came a young guy called George Dockrell."

Known as an old-fashioned disciplinarian at times, Simmons was happy to let his squad celebrate their famous win but it will be back to business today ahead of Sunday's match against India.

"They deserved their party, no doubt about that," he said. "But we didn't come here just to beat one side, we came here to qualify for the quarter-finals and there is still work to do."

The road to glory in Bangalore began in 1995 when Hendrick was appointed as the first full-time national coach -- as one of life's pessimists, he immediately announced that Ireland never had and never would beat an English county side.

Never, in this instance, lasted two years.

Although he narrowly failed to qualify for the 1999 World Cup, the former England fast bowler worked tirelessly to put in place many of the structures and youth systems that have served Ireland so well.

A couple of years later along came Birrell, a dedicated South African who fell in love with the job and lived and breathed Irish cricket to the point where many worried for his health.

He took Ireland to the 2007 World Cup finals, oversaw wins against Pakistan and Bangladesh and had to write and copy his final team-talk to each player because he was too emotional to deliver it.

Simmons couldn't possibly take Ireland any further, surely? And yet he has ...

All three coaches embraced Ireland in their different ways -- Hendrick sipping pints with the locals in Belfast, Birrell and Simmons with their families in north Dublin -- and between them they have created something very special.

Irish Independent

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